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Monday, December 9, 2013

Mary (Luke 1.26-38 et al.)

Sermon by: Robert Austell - December 8, 2013
Text:Luke 1:26-38

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:: Some Music Used
Gathering Music: "Two French Carols" - Susan Slade, flute (arr. Brant Adams)

Hymn of Praise: "Long Ago Prophets Knew" (PERSONET HODIE)
Hymn of Praise: "Angels We Have Heard on High" (GLORIA)

Word in Music: "Miriam" (Pierce Pettis)
Offering of Music: "Magnificat" - women's choir (Kemp)
Hymn of Sending: "Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus" (TIS SO SWEET)
Postlude: "Wake, Awake, for Night is Flying" (Bach)

:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf)
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon, not used in the service. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided for that purpose.

Today I want to look with you at Mary’s story, but not just the part in the scripture reading. I want to walk you through a lifetime of faith, with all its challenging ups and downs. My hope is not only that you will learn something about Mary, but that you will find a point of connection between your life and hers. My hope is that in finding that point of connection you will hear an invitation to trust God in a new or deeper way.

A Message from God: Luke 1:26–38

26 Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city in Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the descendants of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And coming in, he said to her, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” 29 But she was very perplexed at this statement, and kept pondering what kind of salutation this was. 30 The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God. 31 “And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. 32 “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; 33 and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.” 34 Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” 35 The angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God. 36 And behold, even your relative Elizabeth has also conceived a son in her old age; and she who was called barren is now in her sixth month. 37 [The angel answered…] “For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38 And Mary said, “Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.

This morning we heard one of the best-known parts of Mary’s story. It is the “Annunciation” – the message from God through the angel, Gabriel, that Mary would give birth to the Messiah. There’s so much in there, but I want to highlight the miraculous. This is a personal and miraculous encounter with God, requiring faith and trust because the situation is impossible in more than a few ways. Not only is her pregnancy “impossible” with relation to the miracle, it is “impossible” as regards Joseph, her family, and what people might think. And it is “impossibly” significant in terms of the birth of the long-awaited Messiah – LONG-awaited. And yet Mary is told that all these impossibilities were possible. Indeed, as the angel tells her (v. 37 and Mt. 19:26), “Nothing will be impossible with God.” And in terms of Mary’s response – Mary’s faith and trust – it’s all there in v. 38 when she responds, “Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word.”

I’ll admit that this is not one of those passages I am quick to relate to. But I think about those early encounters with God and God’s story. For me, I was a child. You may have been older. But one of the first things anyone has to grapple with is the impossibility of God. This may be – probably is – easier for children. Perhaps this is why Jesus spoke of the “faith of a little child” (Luke 18:17). For adults, this can be the biggest stumbling block to faith, precisely because God is (by definition, I should add) “impossible.” Anything short of impossible would hardly be God and would not require faith. It’s abstract, it’s mystery, and it’s beyond us. Mary encountered several impossibilities personally and up close, and responded in faith and with trust. That stretch to trust and follow, whether in wonder or in crisis, is an essential piece of faith. Your and my “situation” may look nothing like Mary’s, but if you’ve encountered God in concept or in a life-situation, you will be faced with trusting or not trusting.

A Visit with Relatives: Luke 1:46–55

[seeing Elizabeth] 46 And Mary said: “My soul exalts the Lord, 47 And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. 48 “For He has had regard for the humble state of His bondslave; For behold, from this time on all generations will count me blessed. 49 “For the Mighty One has done great things for me; And holy is His name. 50 “And His mercy is upon generation after generation Toward those who fear Him. 51 “He has done mighty deeds with His arm; He has scattered those who were proud in the thoughts of their heart. 52 “He has brought down rulers from their thrones, And has exalted those who were humble. 53 “He has filled the hungry with good things; And sent away the rich empty-handed. 54 “He has given help to Israel His servant, In remembrance of His mercy, 55 As He spoke to our fathers, To Abraham and his descendants forever.”

The rest of the snapshots into Mary’s life and faith will go more quickly, but I think you’ll be surprised at how many of these glimpses scripture affords us. In Luke 1:46-55 Mary visits her relative, Elizabeth, who was barren but who now is pregnant in old age. Her child will be John the Baptist. After Elizabeth (and the baby still in her womb) responds with joy to Mary’s news and presence, Mary declares these words which have come to be known as the “Magnificat.” The faith that we saw in the previous passage has blossomed into joy at what God is doing in her life as well as in Elizabeth’s. This is the language of worship, offered in faith to God whom Mary trusts and loves.

If faith in God was merely an act of the will, or however you’d explain trusting something or someone you can’t fully understand, it wouldn’t look like this. Worship is something more than agreement or belief. It is more like falling in love. It is the expression of that act of the will, beyond even an emotional response. It is drawing near to God in… really, love is the shortest word I can put to it. In many ways THIS is what we try to make space for on Sunday mornings – and certainly worship is not reserved for Sunday morning. But this time (Sunday) is not just about showing up, singing a bit, and putting an offering in the plate. It may seem like those things, but it is intended to be a personal encounter with the God of the universe, set in community, so more like a family meal; yet also one in which we marvel at God with us: can you believe God is stopping by here to speak and listen and love with us?!

Birth of Her Baby (and some visitors): Luke 2:6-7,19

6 While they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. [angels & shepherds] 19 … Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart.

When Mary’s baby was born – and that’s the well-known nativity story with “no room,” the manger, and the shepherds and all – it’s really too much to wrap our minds around fully. I get stuck on the social aspect of it, as if a fleet of truck-drivers showed up in the delivery room after a woman they don’t know has given birth. That just wouldn’t fly at one of our hospitals. But I guess if your delivery was at the equivalent of the snack room at the Motor Inn, it’s not the most far-fetched thing. What I want to focus on in the midst of all this unusual birth and accompanying visitors is in v. 19. Mary “treasured all these things” – shepherds, angels, livestock, the manger, the original message from God, and of course, the birth of her first-born as well – and she “pondered them in her heart.”

Though God tells us He will be with us in all things, it’s another thing when you are going through them. Maybe the birth of Jesus was just crazy enough that it was obvious God was right there. But I also know that I can get so wrapped up in the events of my life, especially if they are stressful, that I shut my eyes and ears to God or even complain that He is absent. I appreciate and am challenged by the note that Mary treasured all these things – the birth, the visitors, the setting; it all became something not only to treasure, but to ponder and meditate on. Would that we would do that with the events of our lives, treasuring that God is with us and continuing to reflect on just how that was so and what it means.

The Law and the Prophets: Luke 2:21–39

21 And when eight days had passed, before His circumcision, His name was then called Jesus, the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb. 22 And when the days for their purification according to the law of Moses were completed, they brought Him up to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord… [Simeon and Anna’s prophecies] 33 And His father and mother were amazed at the things which were being said about Him. …39 When they had performed everything according to the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own city of Nazareth.

We begin to move out of the Christmas and child-birth part of Mary’s story. In Luke 2:21-39 we read of the naming and circumcision of Jesus at eight days old. This event is full of meaning. For one, Joseph and Mary are observing the Law of God, having their male child circumcised at the Temple as well as giving him the name spoken by the angel. But not only did they fulfill the Law regarding Jesus, they also encountered two prophets at the Temple: Simeon and Anna. And both spoke words of prophecy and blessing over Jesus, connecting him with the prophets of old. In this way, in just a few short verses, we see Jesus fulfilling the Law and the Prophets, something that would be pointed out later in the New Testament scriptures as well as by Jesus himself (Matthew 5:17). But again, let me focus on Mary, his mother. Not only was she being spiritually faithful in bringing him to the Temple, with Joseph she was “amazed at the things which were being said about him” (v. 33).

We are human creatures, after all. Despite a powerful experience of God in the past, we are still surprised when it happens again. I’m not sure what we are thinking… surely one burning bush, one angel visit, one faith-filled moment of prayer should sustain us. But then God breaks through again in a different way. Isn’t that good! And while I don’t think these things have to be tied together, do you see how God broke through in Word through Simeon and Anna when Joseph and Mary stepped forth in obedience. Said another way, after the birth, they didn’t just check out and decide God would let them know when and if they were supposed to do anything else. They began what would be a lifetime of faithful parenting, taking the baby Jesus and later the boy Jesus to the Temple and to study the scriptures as any faithful Jewish parent of the time would. And it was there, in the Temple and in the midst of keeping God’s Law, that they heard God’s word… not miraculously this time, but through the faithful declaration of two of God’s people. This is not all that different from coming to worship or reading scripture out of obedience. Those are the ordinary and regular places that God speaks to us – not through angel messengers or voices from the sky. Perhaps framed that way you will find yourself one Sunday morning (or one quiet weekday morning reading your Bible) amazed that God has seemingly spoken His Word to you.

Holy Childhood: Matthew 2:11,14

11 After coming into the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell to the ground and worshiped Him. Then, opening their treasures, they presented to Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh … 14 So Joseph got up and took the Child and his mother while it was still night, and left for Egypt.

We saw how Mary marveled at the shepherd’s visit. Typically in a Nativity set we also see the Wise Men (Magi), but scholars think their visit came as much as two years later, when Jesus was a toddler and Mary and Joseph were living for a while in a home near Jerusalem. Two striking things happened with their visit, which would have confirmed some of the prophecy Mary heard in the Temple at eight days. First, the Wise Men brought kingly gifts for the baby. This is really the only glimpse we get into the early childhood of Jesus. And it is clear from the get-go and for some time that it would not be a normal childhood. As soon as these Wise Men have delivered their exotic gifts of gold, incense, and spice, Mary and Joseph find out in a dream that King Herod is out to kill Jesus. And so Mary, Joseph, and Jesus had to flee some 90 miles to Egypt, where they remained until Herod’s death. Even then, they heard that Herod’s son was ruling in Jerusalem, so that’s when they settled in the country region north of Jerusalem, in Nazareth of Galilee.

While these events pass quickly in the pages of scripture and are eclipsed by more miraculous and adult-Jesus events that come quickly, I can’t help but pause at the intensity of events in Mary’s life. Do you remember being parents of toddler? Living in that first home? Getting baby presents? Especially after all the unexpected events surrounding the birth, I would have just started to breathe a sigh of relief that things were moving towards “normal.” Then it’s “run for your life!” I’ve never had to flee the country because an evil king was after me, but I have experienced a sudden change that turned everything on its head. I appreciate in this crisis that Mary and Joseph still displayed those traits evidenced at their first crisis – the news of Mary’s pregnancy. They still were tuned in to God speaking and leading, even if it meant leaving home behind and heading out in faith. I am challenged to look and listen for God in the midst of danger, change, unfamiliar territory, and to release my need for being in my “comfort zone.”

Holy Teenager!: Luke 2:40–52

40 The Child continued to grow and become strong, increasing in wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him. [staying behind in the Temple] …48 When they saw Him, they were astonished; and His mother said to Him, “Son, why have You treated us this way? Behold, Your father and I have been anxiously looking for You.” 49 And He said to them, “Why is it that you were looking for Me? Did you not know that I had to be in My Father’s house?” 50 But they did not understand the statement which He had made to them. 51 And He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and He continued in subjection to them; and His mother treasured all these things in her heart. 52 And Jesus kept increasing in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.

I noted that the previous story gave us the one glimpse into Jesus’ early childhood. Likewise, we have one account of Jesus as an almost-teenager. This is a fascinating story, confirming what we might hope to find out about a teenage Messiah – that he already recognizes a connection with his Heavenly Father and amazes the religious leaders with his knowledge of scripture. Many of us also recognize the special experience of raising a teenager, who is beginning to think and act independently, and sometimes not in exactly the same way we as parents might think or act. We read here that Jesus went with them, and “continued in subjection” – he certainly honored and respected his parents. We also get that fascinating verse (52) that describes that Jesus “kept increasing in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.” While we don’t know the full implications of that, we realize that before Jesus entered into public ministry, he grew up in a home with a family.

Not only did Mary experience the astonishment of finding Jesus in the Temple, but also the anxiety (v. 48) of not knowing where he had gone and the anger/frustration of being “treated this way” (v. 48). Sometimes teenagers make the wrong decision, as adults do; but if we believe that Jesus was without sin, it is perhaps astonishing to find that the lesson to be learned here was Mary and Joseph’s, not the teenager’s. What I am reminded of here is that sometimes it is the parents that have to stop, listen, and learn. Teenagers are learning how to think and act independently, and that is a good and necessary part of growing up. What they (as well as children) often offer to us as parents is a mirror in which to see our own shortcomings. Sometimes we parents jump to conclusions and judgments and need to stop, listen, and learn as Mary did. A parent-child relationship with that kind of parental humility and teenage respect – really, it is mutual respect and humility – is truly something to “treasure.” (v. 51)

A House Full of Kids: Matthew 13:55-56a

55 “Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not His mother called Mary, and His brothers, James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? 56 And his sisters, are they not all with us?

You may know that Jesus had a brother, James. After Jesus’ death and resurrection he became a leader of the Christian church in Jerusalem. But Mary and Joseph actually had a number of children, mentioned in this one place in Matthew. Jesus had four brothers and at least “sisters” (two or more!). I mention this simply to say that Mary was not just the mother of the holy child/holy teenager, but also was mother to a whole house full of kids.

I think many people who became a Christian as a child or teenager have dreams of doing something special for God – maybe becoming a missionary or minister or some other “super-task” for the Lord. And then life happens – children, responsibility, mortgages, work. I highlight Mary’s family simply to note something that I could support from any number of other scriptures: that raising a family IS a calling from the Lord. Mary would not have understood her role as simply mother to Jesus, but as mother to all these kids. This is one of those verses that helps me connect to Mary, as unique as her miraculous role was, as an ordinary young woman serving the Lord.

Is it Time?: John 2:1–5

1 On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there; 2 and both Jesus and His disciples were invited to the wedding. 3 When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to Him, “They have no wine.” 4 And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does that have to do with us? My hour has not yet come.” 5 His mother said to the servants, “Whatever He says to you, do it.”

The first public miracle of Jesus recorded is in John 2 at a wedding, and Mary plays a fascinating role. At this wedding which would have gone on for days, attended by the entire village, the wine ran out. And Mary tells Jesus about it. He responds that his “hour has not yet come” but she then says to the servants, “Do whatever he says.” I have no idea if Mary envisioned a miracle or just wanted her son to handle it in ordinary ways, but you may know what happened: Jesus miraculously turned 180 gallons of water into the best wine.

I highlight this simply because Mary still has a relationship with her adult son, who was about 30 at this time. She trusts him with the situation and may even know what he is capable of. I am fairly certain that she understood Jesus’ response of “my hour has not yet come.” And the focus of this story is certainly Jesus. But one thing I take away from Mary is her willingness to trust God (through Jesus) for this somewhat ordinary concern. I mean, running out of wine at a multi-day wedding is a big deal, but it’s not healing a blind man or saving sins. But I see here what we are faced with day in and day out: circumstances of life and the choice to offer them to God. There is no clear expectation of a miraculous or an ordinary answer, but she is trusting him for it. Maybe she wants him to just go get some more. Maybe she’s hoping for a miracle. But isn’t that a great model for how we should pray to God? “God, I think I’m failing algebra; will you help me?” Maybe God does something miraculous, or maybe God points you to a new study-buddy. “God, my mom is sick; will you help me?” Maybe God works through medicine or doctors; maybe God brings more direct healing. Said most simply, Mary shows us faith-meets-life-meets-God.

Death of a Son: John 19:25–27

25 … But standing by the cross of Jesus were His mother, and His mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus then saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing nearby, He said to His mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” 27 Then He said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” From that hour the disciple took her into his own household.

The next specific mention of Mary that I could find is some three years later at the foot of the cross with Jesus hanging there to die. Jesus sees his mother and nearby, the disciple John. Jesus entrusts Mary to John’s care and household. I think of all Mary has seen at this point. As a young girl she heard from God that she would have a miracle baby. She experienced all the power and miracle of God at the birth of Jesus and then a lifetime of raising a boy to be a man. She had some indication early on that being the Messiah and King would be dangerous and costly. After all, they had to leave everything and flee to Egypt for their lives. I wonder what she understood of the crucifixion beyond a mother’s sorrow at the suffering and death of a son.

It is one thing to have fresh faith like a child. It is another to face or experience real loss and suffering. Mary saw more than most of the real presence of God, but she also faced more than most the real death of Jesus. Yet even there in the midst of that, her God-man-son was providing for her. It may be the hardest thing we face faith-wise in this life… acknowledging, listening to, trusting God in the midst of profound loss and sorrow; but this, too, is Mary’s legacy to us. And hear this: God IS there. If God is anywhere at all, if God is God at all, God IS there… in the valley of deep shadow, in the darkness. And God does not ask us to be falsely happy or even put together; it is all we can do to simply be there. But God is also there and is willing to meet us.

Mary, Worshiper: Acts 1:14

14 These all with one mind were continually devoting themselves to prayer, along with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers.

Finally, this verse in Acts: in the midst of describing the early church and the believers meeting for prayer and fellowship, we read that among them is Mary the mother of Jesus (and his brothers). Mary, who gave birth to a son and raised him into a man, is listed among those who are followers of Jesus and children of God.

Mary’s real life and spiritual life really mirror our own. Not only does God intend for us to meet and know him through a childlike faith in a miracle-God, but to grow in knowledge and trust of Him even in the ordinariness and the crisis points of life, in the doubts and struggles, and even the face of death. Mary could have reached the end bitter for all that she had lost or deaf to any further message from God. She could have felt like her special time of contribution or mission was done now that Jesus was grown and gone. But she continued to listen to God; she continued to trust God. She gathered with the other believers to worship God.

Today, each of you will surely find yourself at different places along the journey of faith. Some may be waiting to hear from God for the first time. Others may be struggling to find God in the ordinariness of life – school, work, children, routine, bills, and all that. Others may be struggling with doubt and trust and faith in the midst of sickness, death, or some other real loss. And others may feel like life is mostly behind you; what’s left of it or of God?

Mary’s life and testimony – and that’s what we’ve been hearing this morning – is that God is present in all of it. And her testimony lines up with what scripture says: God is there for all of it and God loves you and hears you. My prayer is that, like Mary, you will again and again trust God to be there at every hill and valley of the journey, and know the blessing of recognizing His presence. Amen.

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